Saturday, October 31, 2009

NW Penna. COLAGE Chapter Forming

Northwestern Pennsylvania now has a local chapter of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE). COLAGE is the only national youth-driven network of people with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer parents.

Living in a world that treats our families differently can be isolating or challenging. By connecting us with peers who share our experience, COLAGE helps us become strong advocates for ourselves and our families.

COLAGE Northwest PA is one of the organization's newest local chapters and will build community in the northwestern PA region for people with LGBTQ parents. Contact: Christine. Phone: (814) 398-0148. Email: nwpa@colage.org. Browse to www.colage.org

Our lanes are reserved from 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM. The cost is $7 per person and includes shoes/balls and all-you-can-bowl. If anyone is interested in joining our chapter and/or would like to volunteer at activities, please plan to meet us there. We would like to meet once a month and hope that as word gets out, we will have many participants!


Parents are welcome to volunteer and attend activities and meetings.

New copies of Just For Us will be available at the event. For info and/or to RSVP, please email Christine at nwpa@colage.org.

To get things kicked off we are having our first event at Rolling Meadow Lanes in Erie. Mark your calendars for Saturday, December 12th at 2 PM to meet and sign-in. PLEASE NOTE THE DATE CHANGE! This was initially announced for December 5th. It has been moved to December 12th.

Our lanes are reserved from 2:30 P

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pennsylvania Progressive Summit 2010

Coming Together To Build A Progressive Future
January 29 & 30, 2010 -- Harrisburg


The Pennsylvania Progressive Summit is the largest gathering of progressive activists and leaders in Pennsylvania. We’re coming together to build the progressive movement and to prepare for the legislative and electoral battles of 2010.


We believe that together we can build a permanent progressive majority in Pennsylvania. The Summit is bringing together hundreds of Pennsylvanians to discuss environment, energy, health care, home foreclosures, civil rights, state finances and budget, labor organizing and other progressive issues. It will include panels led by state and national experts; identity, issue and regional caucuses; prominent political, issue and policy-oriented speakers; and the most concentrated gathering of progressive bloggers and field organizers in Pennsylvania to date.

Some of the features of the Summit will be:

* Networking of netroots and grassroots activists, including stakeholders, decision makers, policy makers, activists and providers
* A gubernatorial debate and a U.S. Senate debate
* Inspirational keynote speakers
* Informative and educational workshops
* Creation of issue, identity and regional caucuses
* Beginning the development of progressive policy recommendations for state and local government issues
* Beginning the development of strategies for policy implementation

In the short term, we hope to create policy solutions and action plans to attract support for their implementation. In the long-term, however, the partnerships formed through the Summit have the potential to dramatically alter the political landscape in PA. By connecting the communications, research and organizing capacity of the participating organizations, Pennsylvania progressives may finally be able to produce, campaign around, and implement progressive policy solutions in a way that they were never capable of before.

Learn more:
PA Progressive Summit

Thursday, October 29, 2009

PA CARES Bullying Prevention

Announcement of new GRANT FUNDING to prevent bullying in Pennsylvania Schools

The Center for Safe Schools and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, through a unique partnership with Highmark Healthy High 5, an initiative of the Highmark Foundation, is pleased to announce the availability of grants of up to $7500 for Pennsylvania schools to address the serious issue of bullying. The deadline for submission is November 6, 2009. For more information and to apply online, please click here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What About Gay Marriage?

What Would America Be Like If Marriage Equality Was A Reality?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Voices Of Witness Africa

No Matter Where We Are, From Oil City To Ouagadougou, The Struggle Is The Same!

The film Voices Of Witness Africa born out of desire to keep a promise.

The Worldwide Anglican Communion has failed to keep its promise to its LGBT children to listen to their experiences. Even though lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender faithful Anglicans are in danger of life imprisonment in many countries – indeed can be put to death in some countries simply for being gay – few provinces of the Communion have been willing to engage in the listening process urged on the Communion by its own bishops at every Lambeth Conference since 1978.

The idea for this film began as an effort to bring LGBT African Anglicans to the 2008 Lambeth Conference to tell their stories to this every-ten-years-gathering of Anglican bishops. When that proved almost impossible, the decision was made to bring them to Lambeth via film. That effort was successful. A short preview of this film was shown twice at the Lambeth Conference, on one of those occasions to a standing-room-only crowd.

The producers then returned to Africa for more interviews in more countries. The result is this 30 minute film of stories of courage and love, and most of all, of a deep abiding faith in God.

Voices of Witness Africa from Claiming the Blessing on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Cruelty of Inequality


The only bright side in this heartbreaking story about inequality in U.S. immigration law is the opportunity to see examples of what true family values really look like.

The nice local connection here is that the subject of this story, Steve Orner, has visited Venango County many times to lend his support to folks working for fairness & equality at the community level.

His and his father's courage are an inspiration to all those working for justice in the struggle for human rights for all.



by Kerry Eleveld for The Advocate:

A congressional briefing held Friday to discuss immigration reform included five witnesses, one of whom was a gay man testifying about the struggles faced by binational LGBT couples.

Steve Orner of Washington, D.C., said goodbye on Wednesday to his partner of nearly 10 years, “Joe Smith” -- who asked that we not use his real name -- when Smith left to return to his native Indonesia.

“I'm scared to go back,” Smith said by phone on the day of his departure. “This is my home; I have been living here for half of my life.”

Smith came to the United States 18 years ago to pursue his education. Federal scholarships funded his studies entirely as he earned bachelor's and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, where he met Orner. “I met Steve and I fell in love. I didn’t choose to fall in love,” he said. “I didn’t plan to stay in this country at the time.”

But now Smith is returning to the closet -- to a country where being gay is criminal in some provinces, and to a family who doesn’t know he is gay or that he was forced to leave behind his love in America. “I will survive there, but it's hard because I have a family here -- my partner, the person that is most important in my life, is here,” he said.


Smith was well on his way to receiving his green card, having been approved for one after he was sponsored by a D.C. firm that hired him as a structural engineer.

“Once he got approved, even our immigration attorneys said, ‘Congratulations, it's only a matter of time,’” recalled Orner. But Smith was laid off in April, before his work visa came through. “It was just a huge blow,” said Orner, noting that they had already bought a house together.

The sting has been particularly acute because Smith is well qualified to help rebuild the crumbling infrastructure that major federal stimulus funds are now targeted toward repairing -- but the stimulus package stipulates that almost all the jobs it creates must be filled by U.S. citizens.

“He’s educated with American money, he's a scientist, a Ph.D., and there’s a brain drain in this country -- it's a stupid policy,” said Orner.

For now, the two have determined that living separately is their only option since they would have to be closeted in Indonesia and Orner would not be employable there.

Smith plans to search for jobs in other countries that might take both of them and they have also applied to immigrate to Canada. While they believe the Canada option holds promise, “The hardest part is not knowing for sure,” said Orner. Altogether, the two estimate that they have spent more than $12,000 on immigration attorneys.

“I'm an American and I feel like a 3rd class citizen,” said Orner. “I don’t have the same rights as LGBT couples that were both born here, and I don’t have the same rights as heterosexual binational couples. It’s heartbreaking and it’s cruel.”

That’s the message Orner took to Capitol Hill Friday in a closed-door meeting with Congressional staffers.

Four immigration bills have already been introduced this Congressional session, and LGBT families have been included in three of them. But another set of bills to be introduced later this year by New York Senator Chuck Schumer and California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren may prove to be more decisive since they will lay out the framework for comprehensive immigration reform -- a debate that will extend into next year.


Friday’s briefing dealt with Rep. Mike Honda’s LGBT-inclusive Reuniting American Families act. A spokesperson for the pro-LGBT lobby group Immigration Equality said Orner’s invitation to speak provides hope that LGBT families could make it into immigration legislation yet to come.

“This is the very first briefing that Congress has convened since turning its attention to immigration reform,” said Steve Ralls. “The fact that from the very beginning we are being included in that process is a very good sign.”

Ralls explained that Immigration Equality is pushing for LGBT binational couples to be part of the comprehensive package.

“Inclusion in a multi-issue, high priority bill for this Administration means that we would have a new level of visibility and support to pursue other legislative avenues,” Ralls said, even if LGBT families don’t make the final version of the bill.

If LGBT families are eventually left out of comprehensive immigration reform, Immigration Equality will move forward with the LGBT stand-alone bill, the Uniting American Families Act.

Congressional leaders have stated their intent to tackle comprehensive immigration reform before considering any stand-alone immigration bills.

“We will try every available avenue to win on this issue,” said Ralls.

Learn more about Immigration Equality.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Prodigal God: Finding Your Place at the Table

Followers of extremist, hate groups like the American "Family" Association of Pennsylvania may not be interested in rational dialogue with family, friends and neighbors about the important issues of our time, but for the rest of us, Pastor Mark Micklos and his wife Diana, featured in the new documentary Out In The Silence, continue to share opportunities to build bridges rather than walls in our communities.


Most recently, the Mickloses are encouraging all of us to examine The Prodigal God by renowned minister and New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller. In this book and curriculum guide, Keller illuminates the central Christian message with one of the most powerful yet most misunderstood parables of the Bible.


See video trailer HERE.

Thank You Mark & Diana For Your Openness and Leadership, And For Showing What Christianity Is Supposed To Be All About!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is LGBT Harassment A Problem In Venango County Schools?

Though bullying is a problem for many kids in school, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), or perceived as such, can face a particularly hard road. They are frequently the targets of teasing, ostracism, and even violence, and the consequences go well beyond hurt feelings.


A survey by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network found that harassed LGBT students are more likely to cut class and have lower GPAs than LGBT students who feel safe at school. Some schools have successfully created gay-straight alliances to promote tolerance, but others are reluctant to tackle the issue, or have been stymied by legislation meant to discourage such programs.

Are LGBT students harassed about their sexual orientation at your school?

Edutopia wants to know! Fill out the survey HERE.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"They Want You Dead"

American Evangelicals Play Role In Uganda's Effort To 'Wipe Out' Gays

Do They Have Similar Goals For Taking Care of GLBT People In The U.S.?

by Wayne Besen:

In March, American anti-gay activists traveled to Uganda for a conference that pledged to "wipe out" homosexuality. Seven months later, a draconian bill has been introduced that pledges to make good on this threat. The "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" is so severe that it is designed to shred the spirit and suffocate the soul of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ugandans. If it passes, Uganda will become a predator state that actively hunts down GLBT people to destroy them.

Uganda already punished gay intimacy with life in prison. But, apparently that was not harsh enough, with this bill penalizing anyone who "attempts to commit the offence" with up to seven years in jail. Additionally, a person charged will be forced to undergo an invasive medical examination to determine their HIV status. If the detainees are found to be HIV+, they may be executed.

This barbaric legislation stifles free speech by threatening anyone who is accused of "promoting" homosexuality with five to seven year prison sentences. Snitching on gay friends and family members is strongly encouraged because "failure to disclose the 'offence' within 24 hours of knowledge makes somebody liable to a fine or imprisonment of up to three years."


Sadly, this witch-hunt has the blood stained fingerprints of leading American evangelicals. The Fellowship, (aka The Family) one of America's most powerful and secretive fundamentalist organization's, converted Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni to its anti-gay brand of Christianity, which is the "intellectual" impetus behind the anti-gay crackdown. The clandestine organization's leader, Doug Coe, calls Museveni The Fellowship's "key man" in Africa. Jeff Sharlet, author of "The Family", writes of the African strongman's conversion:

"So," Doug Coe told us, "my friend said to the president, 'why don't you come and pray with me in America? I have a good group of friends-senators, congressmen-who I like to pray with, and they'd like to pray with you.' And that president came to the Cedars (a religious retreat), and he met Jesus. And his name is Yoweri Museveni...And he is a good friend of the Family."

The Family, of course, recently made headlines because one of its key members, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) had sex with his best friend's wife, while they were working together. Another member, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), used one of the Family's Washington properties to try to broker a deal to buy off the furious husband, who has since gone public with the Ensign scandal.

It is important for people to understand that The Fellowship and other anti-gay groups have longed viewed Uganda as a laboratory to experiment with Christian theocracy. For example, fundamentalist organizations recently undermined successful HIV programs in Uganda by demanding abstinence only education, over condom use, which had been working to reduce infection rates.

This year's notorious Kampala conference was the opening salvo in a campaign to crush GLBT lives. The seminar featured Scott Lively, author of The Pink Swastika, who blames the holocaust on gay people.

The hate forum also featured Don Schmierer, a board member of the "ex-gay" organization Exodus International, and Caleb Lee Brundidge, who works with discredited ex-gay "reorientation coach" Richard Cohen. These American "ex-gay" activists clearly left their stamp on this evil legislation, giving Ugandan officials a way to justify the abuse because they can claim that "sinful" gays can choose to change.

"This legislation further recognizes the fact that same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic and that people who experience this mental disorder can and have changed to a heterosexual orientation," the bill said. "It also recognizes that because homosexuals are not born that way, but develop this disorder based on experiences and environmental conditions, it is preventable, especially among young people who are most vulnerable to recruitment into the homosexual lifestyle."


Following the infamous conference, a Kampala newspaper named local gay people, placing their lives in immediate danger. Now, the government may soon declare it open season on GLBT individuals.

In 1994, I brought Rev. Mel White down to speak at an event in Fort Lauderdale. In his address, the former Christian right ghostwriter proclaimed of his previous employers, "They want you dead."

The comment was at once riveting and alarmist to some in the crowd. Yet, the painful silence of anti-gay activists at home is making White appear downright prophetic.


These Christian Colonialists invaded Uganda's politics and culture, and the result is that they have ruined the lives of its GLBT citizens. The Fellowship, Exodus and other American fundamentalist organizations, appear quite unbothered by the poisonous fruits of their labor.

Uganda is a proxy in their culture war and we are witnessing exactly what these fanatics might do if they did not have the United States Constitution blocking their pious path to power. Let the record show that their "key man" controlled Uganda when a religious terror campaign was waged against an innocent minority - and these good Christians stood by and did not lift a finger to stop the horror.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Manifesto For Justice! The Time Has Come!

by John Shelby Spong, former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark:

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate "reparative therapy," as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired.


I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality "deviant." I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that "we love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement.

I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is "high-sounding, pious rhetoric." The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves. I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn't. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to "Roll on over or we'll roll on over you!" Time waits for no one. I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by "fair-minded" channels that seek to give "both sides" of this issue "equal time." I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.


I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude. I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population. I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society" either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church's participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.
Life moves on. As the poet, James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: "New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth." I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cool Web Site: ACT ON PRINCIPLES


Turning Principles into Equality

Act On Principles provides free tools for individuals and organizations interested in implementing The Dallas Principles: Full LGBT civil rights now. No delay. No excuses.

These tools are:

1. Hub for Actions. Registered members representing themselves or their organizations can submit actions that, after editorial review, are posted on our website, facebook page, twitter account, and sent on a daily email to subscribers. Visitors to the site can comment on the actions.
2. Open Blog. Registered members representing themselves or their organizations can submit new ideas, articles, videos, strategies and information for achieving full LGBT civil rights now. After editorial review, it gets posted on our website, facebook page, twitter account, and sent on a daily email to subscribers. Visitors to the site can comment on the blog posts.
3. Public Whip Count. Registered members who contact their Members of Congress can post an update on the Member’s position on a specific bill. Champions follow up on these leads to confirm the whip count.

People fully committed to The Dallas Principles who can write well can become Champions—gaining access to the tools above without editorial review. They are listed as champions with their bio in our site.

Register now to be able to use these tools. Better yet, become a Champion of Equality!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gender Redesigner

The stories of queer America seem to keep intersecting in Oil City. The subject of this film went to Oil City Senior High School!

And it's screening in the Pittsburgh International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival at 3:00 PM on Saturday, Oct. 17 at the Southside Works Cinema. Details HERE.

Gender Redesigner from Johnny b on Vimeo.


This fascinating and inspiring 2007 documentary film follows a young woman as she makes the challenging transition to manhood.

Filmmaker John Bergmann follows his friend and subject, who now calls himself fAe, in his amazing five year journey. As the dream becomes a reality, the complexities of the surgery become more apparent and fAe makes a startling discovery about the balance between masculine and feminine sides.

What's more, not only is fAe a drag kinging (who often performs at Pegasus nightclub), undergoing hormone treatment, and having his breasts removed, he's doing it in rural Western Pennsylvania, leading to obvious social clashes.

Learn more about the film HERE.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Religion-based Bigotry Causes Untold Harm To Millions, Especially Youth

Marching Alongside The Pink Elephant

by Mitchell Gold:

AS THOUSANDS CONVERGE on the nation’s capital this weekend for the National Equality March, our demand is simple: We want full equality. Now.

Although there has been great progress in the last 50 years, the equality movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans has not moved forward as quickly as we should and could have. In the final analysis, it is because we have not effectively addressed the biggest barrier between us and our equality: religion-based bigotry and prejudice.


For years, I was involved with organizations whose goals included achieving equal treatment under the law for all. It seemed obvious to me that the anti-gay messages coming from diverse denominations was the greatest obstacle to achieving that goal, but there was reluctance on the part of many within those organizations to address religion-based bigotry and prejudice toward LGBT Americans. I was confused. Was it because they didn’t feel religion-based bigotry and prejudice was really the No. 1 problem?

Expensive studies have shown that “religion” is the No. 1 hurdle. Perhaps religion wasn’t their thing so they felt incapable of discussing it. Most often I find that people are simply not comfortable challenging someone’s religious beliefs. I’ve come to the conclusion that if an organization’s leader cannot do this, then it is really time to step aside. I was uncomfortable, but when I realized religious teachings were the greatest hurdle, I set out to learn how to talk about it effectively, one person at a time.


RELIGION-BASED BIGOTRY is a giant pink elephant in the room. It is the cause of incredible harm to millions of people and especially vulnerable adolescents and teens.

To be clear, I am not anti-religion. I am anti-religion based bigotry. I feel truly blessed to have former Rev. Jimmy Creech, Bishop Gene Robinson, Revs. Welton Gaddy, Reggie Longcrier, Benny Colclough, and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum in my life.

But moving from New York to North Carolina in the 1980s, I discovered just how pervasive and deep anti-gay sentiment is beyond our urban centers. As I traveled to many areas across our country, it became apparent that the condemning and hateful attitudes and actions could be traced to one source: church teachings.

I spoke to many people who have been victimized by rejection and condemnation. I was burdened most by the young people I had met who had been discarded by their families, churches, communities and lost their own self worth from the onslaught of anti-gay religious language and actions they experienced. I met mothers and fathers who had lost a son or daughter to suicide — young people who believed they’d be better off dead than growing up gay in America.

That burden was more than I could bear and in 2005 I founded Faith in America to educate those who misuse church teaching to justify bigotry, prejudice, discrimination and violence against our community.

IT IS FROM our experience in talking to communities across America during the previous four years that I am convinced we as a movement have truly failed in addressing the root cause of the prejudice and discrimination we face.

I have met hundreds of people of faith who adhere to their faith principles while not looking upon my sexual orientation as a sin or a sinful lifestyle. And I have met many people of faith who have been taught that my sexual orientation justifies looking upon me as undeserving and unequal. I have observed that love, compassion and respect are the core faith principles of most of the people I meet — whether they accept me for who I am or whether they believe same-sex relations are sinful.


It doesn’t take a theologian or well-studied religious person to understand a very simple history lesson. When we look at this country’s history, we see many examples of church teachings misused to justify looking down upon others.

In every case, religion-based bigotry has been judged by history as immoral and wrong.

We, as the LGBT community, do not have to put ourselves before America as some moral or religious arbiter. History and common sense in the hearts and minds of good, decent Americans serve as that arbiter for us.

For those who do not realize the significance of religion and the impact religion-based bigotry has on our struggle for equality, they will continue to wander about aimlessly, dragging the pink elephant in the room behind them, holding them back.

That is not our path. Come join us.

U.S. Offers Global Leadership on LGBT Human Rights Concerns

from the Council for Global Equality:

Warsaw, Poland – October 8, 2009–In Warsaw, Poland, during an important regional human rights conference, the U.S. State Department raised concerns for the first time over human rights violations directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in Europe and North America. At the annual human rights meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Eastern and Western Europe and North America, the United States delegation is speaking out against violations of the rights to freedom of association, especially those targeting gay pride marches in Eastern Europe, while also noting patterns of extreme violence targeting LGBT citizens in the United States and Europe. This is the first time that the United States has used its position within the OSCE to address these alarming human rights trends.


The head of the U.S. delegation, Dr. Michael Haltzel, noted on Monday that “The extreme nature of the violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals has a chilling effect on these individuals speaking openly and advocating for their rights.” He also called on Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to decriminalize homosexual conduct. (His full statement is available here.) Last week, Erika Schlager, another member of the U.S. delegation, noted that the Unites States is “concerned over the denial of permission for Pride events in other countries and the violence that has been directed at participants in marches that do occur.” (Her full statement is available here.)

Mark Bromley, Chair of the Council, also addressed the OSCE, noting that “Eleven years ago this week, a 21‐year‐old gay American named Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, where he was left to suffer alone on a cold country road for 18 hours before anyone found him. Mathew died five days later. Today, Matthew’s violent murder is recognized as a national tragedy; the fact that similar tragedies have been repeated so often across the entire OSCE region is a shameful reality.” The full statement, as delivered by Bromley on behalf of the Council and two European LGBT organizations, is available here.


The Council and the U.S. delegation both expressed hope that in the very near future the United States would adopt an expansion of the U.S. federal hate crime statute to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Commenting on the U.S. positions at the forum, Bromley noted that “U.S. leadership on human rights concerns at the OSCE lends significant diplomatic weight to those who are promoting an examination of the causes, consequences and trends in regional violence against LGBT individuals.” Bromley emphasized the significance of this effort, insisting that “such extreme violence against LGBT individuals means that the U.S. government should encourage all human rights institutions, including the OSCE, to address hate crimes against LGBT communities as a pressing concern.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Step In Faith

Evangelical Christian Brent Childers explains his journey from believing that homosexuality was an abomination to marching in a pro-gay march on Washington.

By Brent Childers | Newsweek

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans are a diverse, extraordinary, resilient, and passionate group of forgiving men and women. I wouldn't be standing beside them demanding full and equal treatment under the law and speaking out against the harm caused by religion-based bigotry at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11 if I thought they were not created in God's image the same as myself, same as my family, as we all are—we are all God's children.


And I know better than anyone, since six years ago I was one of those bigots. At that time it would have seemed abominable to even consider attending a "gay-rights" event. To me, these would have been the people tearing apart the very seams of our culture and our country.

Today, it is a natural expression of who I am. Some might call that a miracle.

So what it is that would bring someone from a place where he once declared himself a "Jesse Helms Republican," a man who condemned homosexuality as a threat to children and society, told his own son that being gay is a ticket to hell, to travel from Hickory, N.C., to the West Lawn of the Capitol building on Oct. 11, 2009? How can one travel from the seemingly impossible road of bigotry to one of acceptance and love for our LGBT brothers and sisters? The answer is one that I hope religious leaders such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson (and most importantly, their followers) will hear.

It's because something deep inside told me that I needed to step out in faith onto a bridge of knowledge and understanding. I didn't know where this bridge would take me but something was telling me it was a path I needed to walk. My own mother challenged me in 2003 to look at my beliefs and the true intent behind the teachings I held in blind faith. "Do you think your views are Christ-like?" she asked me. Her question was dead on: once I walked away from the Church's teachings of rejection and condemnation, my relationship with God transcended to a higher spiritual plateau. I realized an unparalleled sense of spiritual clarity when I opened my heart and mind to a genuine expression of love, compassion, and acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

This new voice—Christ's voice—became the core principles of my faith: love, compassion, and respect. That voice I now realize was desperately wanting to be heard, a voice no longer comfortable with the place in which I had chose to confine it for so long—a place of bigotry, prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding.

The walk across that bridge wasn't very strenuous but it was at times painful. The pain came as I began to realize for the first time that I had been using my faith to bring harm to others. That's not a pleasant realization for anyone who marches under a Christian banner of love, respect, and compassion.

During the past four years I have looked into the faces of those I once caused harm to with religion-based bigotry and prejudice. And while I may have never inflicted a physical blow, I know today that my words indeed caused deep wounds—perhaps at some point deeper than I care to dwell upon.

They are the faces of individuals like young Sean Kennedy, who died in Greenville, S.C., in 2007 after being struck by a person who considered Sean a "faggot"; Pat and Lynn Mulder of Auburndale, Fla., whose gay son also died as a result of a hate crime; Jared Horsford of Texas who carved derogatory words into his flesh because he thought it would help control the demon he was told lived there; Nicholas White who was relentlessly berated by fellow 4-H peers at camp this summer as other 4-H campers stood behind the tormentors in silence; or the mother I met recently in North Carolina who grieved over her dead son—a child that had been rejected because he was gay and thought peace could only come through suicide.


There are many, many others I have met in my work with Faith in America, as we try to bring awareness and understanding to the pain and trauma caused to LGBT people, especially youth, when church teaching is misused to justify and promote a societal climate of rejection, condemnation, and discrimination. This environment fosters suicide, hate crimes, an epidemic of antigay bullying in our schools against all kinds of children gay and straight, legal workplace discrimination against LGBT citizens in 20 states, military service members forced to serve in silence or discharged for being honest about who they are, lesbian and gay parents unable to protect their children without the legal structure of federally recognized civil marriage, and lesbian and gay couples unable to provide security for their partners in the absence of federally recognized civil marriage. This is what we march for on Oct. 11 and every day. Every person coming to Washington—whether they are religious or not—does share one faith, and that is faith in America. We can and must do better. As the progress of history has shown, Americans will prove themselves able to see beyond religion-based bigotry to the promises of equal treatment for all. Those who use religion-based bigotry to persecute and discriminate against LGBT people are on the wrong side of history, just as they were with slavery, interracial marriage, the treatment of women, and so many other issues.

I remember the first time I met Sean Kennedy's mother, Elke, sitting in her family's living room just months after she had lost her precious son as the result of a senseless and hate-filled act of violence. And I will never forget that momentary look on her face when I explained to her that I once was someone whose attitude had helped perpetuate the societal climate in which her son lived and died. It was a moment in which I realized the depths of the wounds I may have inflicted upon a gay teen contemplating suicide or a perpetrator looking to justify hate violence. It is a moment that commands me to continue to march, to speak out, and help others experience the spiritual blessing that comes from unshackling the chains of religion-based bigotry and prejudice.

Brent Childers is the executive director of Faith in America. After changing his views on homosexuality, he left the Southern Baptist Church and now attends both a local Pentacostal and a nondenominational church in Hickory, N.C.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Maria & Melissa's Beautiful Wedding in Titusville

by Maria in Titusville, PA:

I met Melissa in Dec. of 2007. She was everything I had been looking for. She is my other half.

We got pretty serious, and July 30th, 2008, right in our front yard, she gave me a diamond ring and asked me to marry her.


Friends and family were just as happy as we were. I wanted to tell the world how excited I was. I wanted a nice ceremony, a place to celebrate, my dad to give me away, and be able to choose where and when we would be exchanging vows.

As the planning started I realized these small things that are taken for granted by the straight community, I could not do. The first thing was that I was warned not to place any type of engagement photo in the Titusville Herald because of what had happened when Oil City native Joe Wilson and his partner Dean Hamer put their wedding announcement in the Derrick.

The last thing we wanted was to stir anything up. Although my friends and family supported us, we were scared the support would no longer be there if there was any type of negative feedback.

We were already hearing things like: "You know, this isn't a REAL wedding," and "Watch what you tell people, there are protesters out there," ... "Don't make it too big, you don't want to draw attention to yourself," and my personal favorite, "You realize this is not legal."

I was well aware that my marital status was still going to be single in Pennsylvania's eyes, I didn't need to hear it from anyone I cared about.

When I started to find a place to rent for the ceremony, I got lucky. We were told by others not to say what we needed the hall for, so we didn't. I thought we had a date in April and place to celebrate in stone. Got the invitations printed, things were bought, plans were made. But, sadly, due to money issues, we had to let that one go.

That is where things got bad.

I did not get the best response when we tried to find another spot. One place told me that they couldn't let us have the room because they didn't want any "incidents!"

Many places were telling me that they would "get back" to me, but never did.

Finally I found a little meeting room that belonged to a local church. It was the first bite I had, so we took it. We would have to change the date, but at least it was a place. We redid the invitations, and within 3 weeks, certain people found out the location, and we were forced to change it, because it was against the catholic church.

I was back to square one ... no place ... my mom asked me what I thought about an outside wedding ... maybe at a pavilion.

It was too cold in Pennsylvania to have an outside wedding in April ... So we changed the date for the third time. This time it was going to be May 16, 2009. We again lied about why we needed the pavilion. We told them it was an anniversary party for my parents. We redid the invitations for the third time ... changed everything around, all to keep from being "outed" to the anti-gays around here.

It was complete bullshit.


After all the stress and tears, we had our day. It was beautiful and we had a lot of support show up!!!

Although it may not look like much here on paper, it was very sad and unnecessary to have to fight so hard just for us to have our day !!!

I hope this helps at least one person.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

But Gays Shouldn't Be So Blatant

submitted by Jim:

FOR THE STRAIGHT FOLKS WHO DON'T MIND GAYS BUT WISH THEY WEREN'T SO BLATANT

by Pat Parker

You know, some people got a lot of nerve.

Sometimes I don't believe the things I see and hear.

Have you met the woman who's shocked by two women
kissing and, in the same breath, tells you she is pregnant?

But gays, shouldn't be so blatant.

Or this straight couple sits next to you in a movie and you
can't hear the dialogue because of the sound effects?

But gays shouldn't be so blatant.

And the woman in your office who spends an entire lunch
hour talking about her new bikini drawers and how much
her husband likes them?

But gays shouldn't be so blatant.

Or the "hip" chick in your class rattling like a mile a minute,
while you're trying to get stoned in the john, about the
camping trip she took with her musician boyfriend?

But gays shouldn't be so blatant.

You go into a public bathroom and all over the walls there's "John
loves Mary", "Janice digs Richard", "Pepe loves Delores", etc., etc.

But gays shouldn't be so blatant.

Or your go to an amusement park and there's a tunnel of
love with pictures of straights painted on the front and
grinning couples are coming in and out?

But gays shouldn't be so blatant.

Fact is, blatant heterosexuals are all over the place.

Supermarkets, movies, on your job, in church, in books,
on television every day and night, every place--even in gay bars --
and they want gay men and woman to go and hide in the closet.

So to you straight folks I say, "Sure, I'll go if you go too.
But, I'm polite so, after you."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Full Equality - Now

by Wayne Besen:

Last week, the House Education and Labor Committee held a full hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, (ENDA) which would ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA is the crown jewel of an incremental strategy that has dominated the GLBT movement in Washington. The idea is to cut up gay rights into a series of small legislative bites that are digestible to moderate Democrats and Republicans (at least the few left) in swing districts.


For example, we have a bill that would eliminate the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We have another that would allow gay people to serve openly in the military. There is legislation that adds sexual orientation to existing hate crime law. The list goes on.

This strategy may yet work and it deserves a chance, if only because our advocacy groups in Washington have invested so much in its success. It would be very difficult, in any case, to turn this ship around. Perhaps, the ENDA snowball will roll downhill and slowly turn into an avalanche of individual bills that become law. Maybe the piecemeal pupu platter really will become a full meal.

But, what if we don't see tangible results in the next couple of years? Will we be flexible enough to pivot and go in a different direction?

I know it is counterintuitive, but I believe that a single comprehensive GLBT rights bill, that incorporates most of the bills floating around Congress, will be easier to pass than the current flurry of legislation. The reason is, having numerous bills requires repeated partisan fights - each one bloodier than the next. One large bill would require only a single fight - which would greatly benefit Democrats in conservative districts.

The current way of doing business is the equivalent of me coming home on Monday to argue with my partner about not putting the cap on the toothpaste. Then on Tuesday, I pick a fight with him for not making the bed. On Wednesday, I confront him because he did not clean up the kitchen after he ate breakfast. Instead of bitter battles over small-bore issues, would it not be simpler for us to have one gigantic, nasty spat over the larger issue of house cleaning and get it over with?

The strength of a single GLBT bill is that once it is passed, conservative Republicans have one election cycle to try to use it as a club. Once this time-period elapses, the issue is virtually off the table at the federal level. When Americans see that their lives were not negatively impacted, it will be difficult for conservatives to revive the issue with popular support.

The incremental strategy, on the other hand, gives the GOP - and a few conservative Democrats - a permanent wedge issue to use each election cycle. Ending the gay rights debate with sweeping legislation will be less painful at the polls than having this controversial topic drag on indefinitely.

Of course, this won't end the debate on marriage - but once the DOMA is eliminated, most of these skirmishes will occur at the state level, or ultimately be decided in the Supreme Court.

There is also a public relations advantage to having one large GLBT rights bill, in that it will overwhelm our opponents. If we fight ten bills separately, they can send out ten press releases blasting and distorting each bill. By lumping everything together, we limit the total number of attacks (there are only so many press releases they can send out for one fight).

With one bill, our side is strengthened because our messages are streamlined to three compelling points:

1) In America, all people are created equal and this includes GLBT citizens
2) Our system should not have different sets of laws governing different people
3) Discrimination is wrong

Democrats in conservative districts should be able to confidently argue these three points with moral authority, while the incremental strategy forces Members to abandon powerful, overarching themes and delve into the weeds concerning each piece of legislation, thus weakening their positions.


Most importantly, one bill allows our allies to make coherent arguments for equality. Right now, they are forced to contend that it is wrong to fire gay people from jobs, but it is not as wrong for gay people to be denied public accommodations. This inconsistency creates a patchwork of logic and laws and weakens the moral fabric of our movement.

A one-shot approach might also help our advocacy groups conserve resources. Currently, our lobbyists have to make a pitch for each bill and our advertising dollars are spread thin. With one bill, we could save enough money to create a powerful campaign and rally the grass roots.

Finally, by standing up for full-equality, the Democrats will gain a very loyal and satisfied constituency for years to come. Judging by the attacks on Obama over healthcare, loyal friends may come in handy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why Right-Wing Demagogues Are Trying to Peddle Ludicrous Conspiracy Theories

by Chip Berlet for Alternet:

Even before Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, the internet was seething with lurid conspiracy theories exposing his alleged subversion and treachery.

Among the many false claims: Obama was a secret Muslim; he was not a native U.S. citizen and his election as president should be overturned; he was a tool of the New World Order in a plot to merge the government of the United States into a North American union with Mexico and Canada.


Within hours of Obama’s inauguration, claims circulated that Obama was not really president because Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts scrambled the words as he administered the oath of office. A few days after the inauguration came a warning that Obama planned to impose martial law and collect all guns.

Many of these false claims recall those floated by right-wing conspiracy theorists in the armed citizens’ militia movement during the Clinton administration — allegations that percolated up through the media and were utilized by Republican political operatives to hobble the legislative agenda of the Democratic Party.

The conspiracy theory attacks on Clinton bogged down the entire government. Legislation became stuck in congressional committees, appointments to federal posts dwindled and positions remained unfilled, almost paralyzing some agencies and seriously hampering the federal courts.

A similar scenario is already hobbling the work of the Obama administration. The histrionics at congressional town hall meetings and conservative rallies is not simply craziness — it is part of an effective right-wing campaign based on scare tactics that have resonated throughout U.S. history among a white middle class fearful of alien ideas, people of color and immigrants.

Unable to block the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, the right-wing media demagogues, corporate political operatives, Christian right theocrats, and economic libertarians have targeted healthcare reform and succeeded in sidetracking the public option and single-payer proposals.

A talented environmental adviser to the Obama administration, Van Jones, was hounded into resigning Sept. 5 by a McCarthyite campaign of red-baiting and hyperbole. Support for major labor law reform has been eroding.

With a wink and a nod, right-wing apparatchiks are networking with the apocalyptic Christian right and resurgent armed militias — a volatile mix of movements awash in conspiracy theories. Scratch the surface and you find people peddling bogus conspiracy theories about liberal secular humanists, collectivist labor bosses, Muslim terrorists, Jewish cabals, homosexual child molesters and murderous abortionists.

This right-wing campaign is about scapegoating bogus targets by using conspiracy theories to distract attention from insurance companies who are the real culprits behind escalating healthcare costs.

Examples of right-wing conspiracy theories include the false claim that healthcare reform will include government bureaucrat “Death Panels” pulling the plug on grandma. Another is the claim that Obama is appointing unconstitutional project “Czars” More fraudulent conspiracy theories are being generated every week.

The core narrative of many popular conspiracy theories is that “the people” are held down by a conspiracy of wealthy secret elites manipulating a vast legion of corrupt politicians, mendacious journalists, propagandizing schoolteachers, nefarious bankers and hidden subversive cadres.

This is not an expression of a healthy political skepticism about state power or legitimate calls for reform or radical challenges to government or corporate abuses. This is an irrational anxiety that pictures the world as governed by powerful long-standing covert conspiracies of evildoers who control politics, the economy, and all of history. Scholars call this worldview “conspiracism.”

The term conspiracism, according to historian Frank P. Mintz, denotes a “belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history.” Mintz explains: “Conspiracism serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power. As such, conspiracy theories do not typify a particular epoch or ideology.”

When conspiracism becomes a mass phenomenon, persons seeking to protect the nation from the alleged conspiracy create counter movements to halt the subversion. Historians dub them countersubversives.

The resulting right-wing populist conspiracy theories point upward toward “parasitic elites” seen as promoting collectivist and socialist schemes leading to tyranny. At the same time, the counter-subversives point downward toward the “undeserving poor” who are seen as lazy and sinful and being riled up by subversive community organizers. Sound familiar?

Right-wing demagogues reach out to this supposedly beleaguered white middle class of “producers” and encourage them to see themselves as being inexorably squeezed by parasitic traitors above and below. The rage is directed upwards against a caricature of the conspiratorial “faceless bureaucrats,” “banksters” and “plutocrats” rather than challenging an unfair economic system run on behalf of the wealthy and corporate interests. The attacks and oppression generated by this populist white rage, however, is painfully felt by people lower on the socio-economic ladder, and historically this has been people of color, immigrants and other marginalized groups.

It is this overarching counter-subversive conspiracy theory that has mobilized so many people; and the clueless Democrats have been caught unaware by the tactics of right-wing populism used successfully for the last 100 years and chronicled by dozens of authors.

The techniques for mobilizing countersubversive right-wing populists include “tools of fear”: dualism, demonization, scapegoating, and apocalyptic aggression.

When these are blended with conspiracy theories about elite and lazy parasites, the combination is toxic to democracy.

DUALISM

Dualism is simply the tendency to see the world in a binary model in which the forces of absolute good are struggling against the forces of absolute evil. This can be cast in religious or secular story lines or “narratives.”

SCAPEGOATING

Scapegoating involves wrongly stereotyping a person or group of people as sharing negative traits and blaming them for societal problems, while the primary source of the problem (if it is real) is overlooked or absolved of blame. Scapegoating can become a mass phenomenon when a social or political movement does the stereotyping. It is easier to scapegoat a group if it is first demonized.

DEMONIZATION

Demonization is a process through which people target individuals or groups as the embodiment of evil, turning individuals in scapegoated groups into an undifferentiated, faceless force threatening the idealized community. The sequence moves from denigration to dehumanization to demonization, and each step generates an increasing level of hatred of the objectified and scapegoated “Other.”

One way to demonize a target group is to claim that the scapegoated group is plotting against the public good. This often involves demagogic appeals.

CONSPIRACISM

Conspiracism frames demonized enemies “as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm.” Conspiracist thinking can move easily from the margins to the mainstream, as has happened repeatedly in the United States. Several scholars have argued that historic and contemporary conspiracism, especially the apocalyptic form, is a more widely shared worldview in the United States than in most other industrialized countries.

Conspiracism gains a mass following in times of social, cultural, economic, or political stress. The issues of immigration, demands for racial or gender equality, gay rights, power struggles between nations, wars — all can be viewed through a conspiracist lens.

Historian Richard Hofstadter established the leading analytical framework in the 1960s for studying conspiracism in public settings in his essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” He identified “the central preconception” of the paranoid style as a belief in the “existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character.”

According to Hofstadter, this was common in certain figures in the political right, and was accompanied with a “sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic” which “goes far to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation.”

According to Michael Barkun, professor of political science at Syracuse University, conspiracism attracts people because conspiracy theorists “claim to explain what others can’t. They appear to make sense out of a world that is otherwise confusing.” There is an appealing simplicity in dividing the world sharply into good and bad and tracing “all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents.”

COVER OBAMA’S BACK, BUT KICK HIS BUTT

Today, when you hear the right-wing demagogues whipping up the anti-Obama frenzy, you now know they are speaking a coded language that traces back to Social Darwinist defenses of “Free Market” capitalism and to xenophobic white supremacy. The voices of Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Coulter, Dobbs and their allies are singing a new melody using old right-wing populist lyrics. The damage they can do is great even if most of these movements eventually collapse.

The centrist Democratic spinmeisters surrounding Obama have no idea how to organize a grassroots defense of healthcare reform. That’s pathetic.

These are the three R’s of civil society: Rebut, Rebuke, Re-Affirm: Rebut false and misleading statements and beliefs without name-calling; rebuke those national figures spreading misinformation; and re-affirm strong and clear arguments to defend goals and proposed programs.

That’s exactly what President Obama did on in his nationally televised address Sept. 9.

While keeping our eyes on the prize of universal, quality healthcare, we must also prevent right-wing populism as a social movement from spinning out of control. Since Obama’s inauguration, there have been nine murders tied to white supremacist ideology laced with conspiracy theories. It is already happening here.

Since centrist Democrats are selling us out, it is time for labor and community organizers to turn up the heat. We should defend Obama against the vicious and racist attacks from the reactionary political right, but we can have Obama’s back while we are kicking his butt.

Vigorous social movements pull political movements and politicians in their direction — not the other way around. We need to raise some hell in the streets and in the suites.

Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates based near Boston, is editor of the recent book, Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash (South End Press), from which this article was drawn.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cool Orgs: ORGANIZING UPGRADE


We are living in amazing times. Between the groundbreaking election of President Obama and the onset of the largest economic crisis that this country has seen in decades, the terrain of politics is rapidly shifting beneath our feet. The left-progressive movement is currently engaged in a re-evaluation and reorientation. Within this broader dialogue on the left, community organizers need place to reflect on the particular possibilities and demands facing in this historic moment.

New Questions and Challenges for Community Organizing

It is dizzying to think about the political possibilities of this moment. There are real opportunities to make significant impact – regionally and nationally – in the context of the Obama administration. As we fall deeper into the recession, the broader public is beginning to discuss the limits of capitalism, the role of financial institutions, and the parameters of the “free market.” Obama’s election has given community organizing a new profile and broadened the number of people who might be willing to engage in organizing for social change. The mainstream is up for grabs in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. The possibilities are there, but the left and the community organizing sector need more clarity and intention to take advantage of them.


The challenges are just as vast. With the economy tanking, our communities are facing a new level of hardship. At the same time, philanthropic support for our work is shrinking. We are also seeing a rise in attacks on community organizing and intense red-baiting and race-baiting. From the forced resignation of Van Jones to the smearing of ACORN in the national media, community organizers and the left are seeing the rise of a militant and mobilized right wing. All the while, day-to-day demands of organizing work are not letting up, even as new crisis and needs surface. It can be difficult to take a moment to step back and reflect on the shifts in the broader political climate and how we need to reorient our work to meet the new climate.

This Project

Organizing Upgrade is an attempt to engage left leaders and innovators in the field of community organizing in a strategic dialogue. We hope that this project can bring the kind of inspiration, vision and strategic clarity we need to strengthen our political impact, both in our immediate fight and in our longer-term efforts to build the social justice movement and to revitalize a movement-rooted left in the United States. We hope that, by encouraging some of the leading innovators and leaders from the sphere of community organizing to put pen to paper and to speak their mind, we can develop unity and clarity about the key demands on left organizers in these times.

This project was initiated by Sushma Sheth and Harmony Goldberg with the support of Joseph Phelan. Knowing that the day-to-day demands of organizing can make it difficult to step back and get perspective on the bigger picture and that most left thinking is focused on more abstract questions, we wanted to create a space that would push left organizers to articulate our thinking and to get more collective clarity about how we can build a more powerful movement and a left that is more rooted in and accountable to our communities.

Contributors have been asked to respond to the following three questions:

Conditions: These are dramatic times politically, socially, and economically. What do you think are the most significant shifts happening right now, and how do they change the context of our work?

Strategic Priorities: There are a number of new opportunities for organizing presented by the new Obama administration and the economic crisis. What are the key interventions that the community organizing sector should make in this moment? Are there particular contributions that left organizers should make in this process?

Changing Orientation: What is inspiring you these days? What are old strategies that our sector should turn away from? Which new tools and ideas are you now experimenting with?



The Dialogue & Your Thoughts

We really want to encourage you to participate in this important conversation about how we are going to take our work to the next level. Please use the “comment” function to enter the dialogue. We encourage you to say where you agree and where you disagree and want to suggest other ways forward. We strongly encourage you to be principled and constructive in your feedback; things like name-calling, politics-baiting and personal accusations do not move our collective conversation forward. We will be moderating all comments in the interests of promoting a productive dialogue.

You can contact us at upgrade@ organizingupgrade.com if you are interested in submitting a piece, but know that we have a long list of contributors already signed up.

Learn more at Organizing Upgrade!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Q & A With Geneticist and Filmmaker Dean Hamer

from Scarlet & Black, the student newspaper at Iowa's Grinnell College:

Geneticist Dean Hamer came into fame in 1993 for his controversial discovery of “the gay gene”. His convocation speech Thursday, which focused on his research in behavior genetics and human sexuality, was followed in the evening by a screening and discussion of Out in the Silence, the documentary he produced chronicling the challenges of GLBT individuals in a small Pennsylvania town.


Jumi Bello: What prompted you to study genes pertaining to human behavior?

Dean Hamer: I think it was why I’ve studied genetics all my life. It got to a certain point in time where I’d done my basic research and I was looking for something that would have more social importance and it was at that same time that the Human Genome Project really started…so you could really do something significant with behavior genetics. So I put those two things together and decided to do that.


Bello: With all this research, you made findings on all types of behavioral genetics—serotonin transporters, dopamine and how it relates to anxiety/depression and even the “gay gene.” What was your motivation for pursuing this line of scientific research?

Hamer: I think that, you know, almost everyone who is a biologist thinks that all these traits have some biological underpinning. What was novel about what I did was to say, “Ok, let’s apply the technology we have and study something like sexual orientation,”and most people would shy away from stuff like that because it’s too queer or too gay or too weird or something like that. So it wasn’t really so much of a theory as the willingness to look at something that a lot of people had not investigated at all before.

Bello: Your willingness to look at something that had not been investigated before produced some findings that were very groundbreaking for the scientific world as well as the queer theory arena. How did people react when you started publishing your findings?

Hamer: The reactions were very mixed. They ranged from absolute total ecstasy: “This is wonderful, this is great,” to: “You’re some kind of Hitler madman who’s going to be destroying gay people forever.” It was very, very varied, I would say. The only people who would be consistently against it were the real right-wingers who don’t want anyone to think that being gay is anything other than a bad choice that people make. But other people who were on both sides saw things both ways.


Bello: What about your more current hypotheses on other behavioral genes? You wrote something in 2004 called “The God Gene” and you were talking about how there is a God gene for the religious experience.

Hamer: That’s actually not a gene. It’s not really for religion or for God, it’s more for the feelings of spirituality that people have. And we have this theory that spirituality again is a personality trait that is variable. Some people tend to be more spiritual and others less so.

Bello: What led to this publication?

Hamer: I’m just fascinated with how important religion has become in American society. It made me wonder why it was so important and as a biologist, I wondered whether there were biological roots. There’s been a fair amount of research suggesting that there’s some sort of biological root to spirituality and we decided to test that.

In fact, what the research looks like is that this tendency towards spirituality does have some sort of innate component, whereas religion itself is purely culture and has no biology. I also realized that that is very at the outer edge of what biology can really study in a truly scientific way. I think the research is valid but is sort of pushing the limits of how much you can study through biology.

Bello: So with all this research and publications you’ve made over the years, you managed to produce a film called Out Of The Silence, which is the story of queer people in rural communities. How did you manage to find time to do this?

Hamer: That’s a good question. Well, as you see, it’s about something that’s important to me and my partner and I felt like somebody had to document it. And since nobody was going to do it for us, we just decided to do it ourselves and we just started filming.


We’d go to Oil City, this small town, on weekends or for a couple of days at a time and film while we are there and stretch that out for a couple of years and now it’s a movie. Moviemaking is a skill in and of itself as I’ve discovered. It requires dedication and a lot of collaboration with other people.

We’ve also been very fortunate to be able to work with some very talented people. We got support from the Sundance Institute—we got two small grants from the Sundance Institute. We applied for the grants and it’s much harder to get a Sundance grant than an NIH [National Institutes of Health] grant. It’s like a thousand applications for 10 spots, but we had an interesting story and that was extremely helpful.

Bello: Has the movie been well received since it has been produced?

Hamer: It’s just beginning now and we’re beginning our outreach tour. It’s been extremely well received. We just heard from the American Bar Association who wants to use it to train their lawyers all over the country — the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] is going to use it, the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council is going to use it and you’ll see it’s because it really sort of shows both sides of the debate that’s going on.

It’s hopeful and optimistic. It has got a lot of qualities that most gay documentaries don’t have because it tries to really show both sides and I think that makes a big difference. I think it’s a tool that can go beyond preaching to the choir and bring two people together and discuss these issues — I hope.

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